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With only two locally organized alternative public schools winning state charters Tuesday, New York State is losing a chance to widen the experiment in this area.

Both schools approved so far will be based in Buffalo, limiting the charter school experience here to a single urban setting and a single school system. None of the 10 remaining proposals, which included schools that planned to open in suburban and rural areas, has yet won a charter.

The charter school concept is designed to test the educational waters, experiment with diversity in teaching styles and provide the competition that backers believe will spur change for the better in surrounding public school districts. In this region, though, that experiment now is too narrowly defined.

The city-based schools approved by trustees of the university system, one of two state chartering agencies, will draw heavily on surrounding neighborhoods, with programs geared toward urban needs. They are unlikely to draw many pupils from the suburbs and the impacts will be limited to one school district.

Buffalo School Board president Paul G. Buchanan has adopted a "wait-and-see attitude" and hopes "to treat it as an opportunity, rather than a crisis." But that opportunity might have been wider, had schools opened in suburban districts.

Charters in the suburbs, geared more toward alternative teaching styles than to neighborhood needs, would be much more likely to draw from several city and suburban systems. Educators would learn much more about the appeal of charters, the regional impacts on pupil enrollment and budgeting and the needs for responses to meet the competition.

The loss of that opportunity, of course, can be offset by studies of the same impacts elsewhere in the state, and two suburban proposals still are in the running for Regents-granted charters.

But Western New York is missing, at least for now, a chance for a firsthand look at how charters could work in Orchard Park, the Tonawandas, the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation or Niagara County. The scope of the experiment has been limited -- but the future still holds possibilities.

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